Seminar: ‘Medieval Theories of Conscience’, Sorbonne University, Paris, 2 December 2022 14:00-17:00 GMT

With the participation of :

Dr Gustav Zamore (Cambridge)
‘Conscience, Synderesis, and Heresy – the Emergence of a New Subjectivity?’

In this paper, I will trace the scholastic discussions on conscience, synderesis, and heresy: the problems posed by an erring conscience, and how scholastic discussions informed and were formed by inquisitorial practice and wider clerical concerns about heresy. Based on inquisitorial registers from the early fourteenth century, I suggest that together with the pastoral revolution of the thirteenth century, following Lateran IV, these new theories and practices shaped the expectations on how the laity conceived of their interior lives.
Responder: Monica Brinzei.

Dr Stephen Mossman (Manchester)
‘Confession, anticlericalism, and bescheidenheit: the authority of conscience in the works of Rulman Merswin (1307-82)’

The considerable oeuvre of the Strasbourg writer Rulman Merswin, a sometime merchant banker turned contemplative, expresses a strong claim for laity to shape the direction of their own spiritual lives. That claim goes hand-in-hand with a marked anticlericalism systematically downplayed in earlier scholarship. His treatment of confession brings the matter into sharp relief. Laity are instructed to rely on their inner sense of discernment (bescheidenheit) to choose the right course in moral quandaries, in direct and explicit opposition to the spiritual direction and moral tutelage offered by ordained confessors. Bescheidenheit operates in Merswin’s anthropology as a grounding principle with the force of conscience. Responsibility for salvation is transferred wholly onto the shoulders of laity themselves. The spiritual merits of those laity who have reached a state of perfection in the contemplative life – the ‘friends of God’ – and not the prayers of the institutional church are the foundations on which the redemption of mankind rests. This paper will explore these linked issues of confession and conscience in relation to changing understandings of the self in the later Middle Ages.
Responder: Isabel Irribaren

Those who wish to attend the seminar remotely are welcome to do so. Please contact Christophe Grellard ( or Emily Corran ( in order to receive the Teams link.

Further details at :

Seminar organized by Emily Corran, UCL, and 2022-2023 Paris IAS Fellow, as part of her seminar series “Conscience and the Sources of Moral Authority”.


Published by charlottecook

Charlotte Cook graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in European History from Washington & Lee University in 2019. In 2020 she received her Master’s degree in History of Art from the Courtauld Institute of Art, earning the classification of Merit. Her research explores questions of royal patronage, both by and in honor of rulers, in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England. She has worked as a researcher and collections assistant at several museums and galleries, and plans to begin her PhD in the autumn of 2022.

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